June 16, 2006

Intrigued, Not Convinced

Hatched by Dafydd

Michael Ledeen over at NRO believes the "planning document" seized in a raid shortly before we killed Musab Zarqawi is a "terribly done...shockingly amateurish...unbelievable" forgery by the Iranians.

I'm not convinced; but he does raise some intriguing questions that beg for answers.

The conceit of the piece is that Ledeen is consulting his Ouija Board to channel the spirit of James Jesus Moreno Angleton, a former CIA counterintelligency guy who died in 1987; in the "dialog," JJA refers to this disembodied spirit -- which is Ledeen's way of raising the questions. (Don't ask.)

For example, here is an early exchange:

JJA: Well, the assumption about this piece of paper is that it reflects the thinking of at least one important terrorist leader, right? Otherwise it wouldn’t be important.

ML: Obviously.

JJA: So how come this terrorist leader makes so many mistakes? I mean, blatant factual errors. Let’s start with his statement -- #5 in the first set of numbered paragraphs -- that there has been “a decline of the resistance’s assaults.”

ML: Well, our casualties are certainly down, aren’t they?

JJA: Not really. May was one of the worst months since the fall of Saddam. Recently there’s been a dramatic increase in assaults and the number of dead innocents. Precisely the opposite of what the unnamed “leader” says.

May was bad, but April was a lot better. The document itself bears no date; so my first question for Ledeen would be, when does he think it was written? (Note the Breitbart.com has the wrong origin for the document; it came from a raid that preceded the death of Zarqawi.)

In the end, Ledeen concludes that it's a deliberately clumsy forgery by the Iranians in order to sow FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) about any other papers we might find. But this still requires the document not to be a blatant fraud, else it wouldn't sow anything but laughter.

E.g., the fake evidence of Iraqi attempts to obtain yellowcake was only effective insofar as it was good enough to be believed; that way, some governments might have based all or part of their analysis on it. Then, when it's shown to be a fake, their entire intelligence structure is discredited. Those countries which rejected the fraud from the very beginning, notably the United Kingdom, were unscathed.

Thus, Ledeen's basic theme is inherently goofy: if it were a fraud by an advanced intelligence agency like Iran's, they wouldn't have put so many mistakes into it; however, we have certainly seen documents from, for example, the Iraq Intelligence Service prior to the invasion, that were sweeping in their inaccuracy... yet still provably authentic. It is entirely possible that a particular terrorist writing a particular document might be behind the times and not know that they had launched more attacks in May; he might well still be operating off of April's numbers, no matter when he wrote it.

So mere mistakes are not convincing to me. Let's move on to Ledeen's other criticisms.

JJA: And then — #6 in that first batch — he says that there’s been “an increase in the number of countries and elements supporting the occupation.” I guess he doesn’t read Italian, does he? And even the Brits have announced they’re going to leave. Again, the opposite of the facts. I could go on, but you get the point, don't you?

I think this is just a clumsy mistake on Ledeen's part (see? anyone can do it!) Probably, the writer of the document is referring to increased support from the ummah, from the Arab Moslem countries:

However, here in Iraq, time is now beginning to be of service to the American forces and harmful to the resistance for the following reasons....

6. By allowing an increase in the number of countries and elements supporting the occupation or at least allowing to become neutral in their stand toward us in contrast to their previous stand or refusal of the occupation.

Over the last year or so, a number of countries, particularly Arab countries -- and especially particularly Jordan and Saudi Arabia -- have offered a lot more help to the US in the GWOT in general and even in matters related to the terrorist threat in Iraq. That is most likely what the writer here is talking about, and Ledeen's claim of factual error in the document is simply wrong itself.

Here is another line of attack where I think Ledeen just plain misunderstands the point of the writer of this document:

JJA: Look at #2 in the second group of numbered paragraphs, the ones that make recommendations. It says that the terrorists should “infiltrate the ranks of the National Guard..... In fact they've done it, as everybody knows. The Iraqi people trust the army but they are terrified by the national guard, precisely because there are so many terrorists and terrorist agents in it.

First of all, Ledeen makes a very elementary mistake: the forces of the Interior Ministry are not called "the National Guard." That word in the document comes from the translation supplied by the Iraqi government; as it is not the standard word used for either the New Iraqi Army (Ministry of Defense) or the Iraqi Police (Interior Ministry), we know that it is a mistranslation.

What we do not know off the bat is what is should have read. But we can deduce; here is the description from the document itself:

1. By allowing the American forces to form the forces of the National Guard, to reinforce them and enable them to undertake military operations against the resistance.

That does not sound like a description of the Iraqi Police; they are more or less intact from the Saddam era. But after we toppled the Baathists, one of the first things we did (it was controversial, but I think necessary) was to disband the Iraqi Army and begin forming a New Iraqi Army. And it is the Iraqi Army, not the Iraqi Police, that we have spent so much time training to "enable them to undertake military operations against the resistance."

Thus, when the translator uses the term National Guard, he clearly refers to the New Iraqi Army -- not the Iraqi Police. Once you realize that, the statements about the "National Guard" make perfect sense, coming from a Sunni terrorist:

Such a study is needed in order to show the best means to accomplish the required goals, especially that the forces of the National Guard have succeeded in forming an enormous shield protecting the American forces and have reduced substantially the losses that were solely suffered by the American forces....

2. To assist some of the people of the resistance to infiltrate the ranks of the National Guard in order to spy on them for the purpose of weakening the ranks of the National Guard when necessary, and to be able to use their modern weapons.

Substitute "New Iraqi Army" for "National Guard" above (instead of substituting "Iraqi Police"), and it all falls into place.

Finally, there is what Ledeen evidently considers his killer argument:

JJA: Aha! It emerges bit by bit, but the whole thrust of the document is that Iran is a sweet innocent, actually an ally of the United States in Iraq, and that the terrorists should do everything possible to foster conflict between Iran and the Americans.

Here is what the document says:

It is not known whether American is serious in its animosity towards Iraq [sic -- Iran], because of the big support Iran is offering to America in its war in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Hence, it is necessary first to exaggerate the Iranian danger and to convince America and the west in general, of the real danger coming from Iran, and this would be done by the following.

But again, there is a ready explanation: the Iranians are helping the resistance... but they're mostly helping the Shia, not the Sunni; in fact, Iran-backed Shiite militias (notably that of Muqtada Sadr) are infiltrating the Iraqi Police in order to massacre Sunnis in the centrals areas of Iraq.

Sunni terrorists may well consider this "big support" to the Americans -- who they see as being in league with the Shia.

Thus, nearly all of Ledeen's objections are at least themselves questionable. This is why I say his column intrigues, but it does not convince.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, June 16, 2006, at the time of 6:57 PM

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The following hissed in response by: hunter

I read this document as a very Islamofascist-Sunni pov, and it made a lot more sense.
The discrepancies of stats, to me, stems from the decentalized nature of the terorists: The AQI doc is speaking to AQI perspective.
I think we need to go with the flow here. The game is going very fast, and it is becoming clear that we are wining. Frankly that is enough for me.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 16, 2006 9:51 PM

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